Over the past several years, a lot of vendors have established a variety of designations aimed at giving channel partners a demonstrable seal-of-approval for specific technologies or market expertise. In a world where channel partners need to differentiate against their competitors on something more than price, these “specializations” or “specialties” go a long way towards helping customers weed through the various IT offerings based on training, experience, and oftentimes customer satisfaction. Typically, all three of those qualities are necessary in order to “get badged,” as the partners often call it.
But how important should those badges be to you, as the IT decision-maker in a small business? The truth is, it depends.
If you are using advanced applications, and require high levels of security, run complex databases and are heavily dependent on things like CRM tools, unified communications capabilities and such, then I would say that the case for using a specialized partner is a strong one.
If you’re not using all those things, but are in the middle of taking a hard look at how you could get more mileage out of your IT setup, then it’s also true that a specialized partner may be in the best position to guide you, and help you get the necessary infrastructure, speeds, and feeds lined up to support your upgrades. No muss, no fuss, (hopefully).
Some of the designations track not only to technical expertise, but to vertical market expertise, as well. Thus, a partner who has been dropping systems into companies like yours on an ongoing basis, probably has the upper hand in making sure everything is done right the first time.
Also, to the extent that your company is heavily dependent on information technology as a means of keeping the doors open, tends to pump up the argument for specialized partners as well.
On the other hand, I’m sure that for some of you out there, information technology is not central to your business and all you really need is some email capability, Internet access, some basic bookkeeping software, a wide area connection, and enough security with which to get by. Pretty much everybody in the channel, as well as a lot of people who aren’t in the channel, could hit that bar if they choose to offer those services. So in that context, specializations might not be as critical as it would be to the technology-imbued neighbors of such a company.
The interesting thing is just how pervasive technology has become across the broad spectrum of business. Nowadays, technology is primarily about beefing up revenues or reducing expenses, and there is a boatload of creative minds out there that are finding new ways to make that happen. Thus, the volume of low-tech companies floating around out there is becoming lesser and farther in between.
But regardless of how badly your company specifically needs specialized partners, it is actually a credit to the tech industry that vendors and service providers are being very serious about skills, competency, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. And since many of these designations also tie in to the channel’s compensation structures, it’s fair to say that the vendors and SPs are putting their money where their mouth is.